Canada's foreign affairs minister says U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum should be seen as a separate issue from the new North American trade pact, despite Donald Trump's claims a deal couldn't have been reached without them.
Chrystia Freeland, who was in Windsor, Ont. Tuesday to discuss the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement with a local UNIFOR chapter, was pressed by reporters on how Canada is poised to ratify the deal without securing an end to the punishing levies.
In June, Trump hit Canada, Mexico and the European Union with tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum. His administration said the move was made on "national security" grounds under Section 232 of U.S. trade law — a justification Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted as absurd and insulting.
'A totally separate track'
Though Canada hit back with reciprocal tariffs on U.S. goods, it was hoped that reaching a deal to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would end the fight. The tariffs have remained in place since the USMCA deal was announced in late September.
Freeland told reporters that Canada has been clear from the beginning that the tariff issue was "on a totally separate track" from trade negotiations.
"That's not just a matter of opinion, that's a matter of legal fact," she said, noting that Canada and other nations are mounting legal challenges against the tariffs at the World Trade Organization.
Watch the CBC News video of Chrystia Freeland's press scrum:
"This had nothing to do with our NAFTA negotiation and could not have anything to do with our NAFTA negotiation," she said. "And that has been a very important position for Canada. We are going to maintain that."
But at White House press conference to tout USMCA in October, Trump mocked the "babies out there" who were concerned about his aggressive approach during trade talks, including some in Congress.
"Without tariffs, we wouldn't be talking about a deal," he said at the time. "Without tariffs, we wouldn't be standing here."
In an interview with CNN, Trudeau said tariffs had no effect on trade negotiations as Canada was always willing to "come to the table."
The prime minister told reporters in Paris Monday that he "absolutely" discussed the issue with Trump during a private dinner of world leaders over the weekend. Trudeau said he aims to see the tariffs lifted before the G20 summit at the end of the month, where the USMCA signing ceremony is expected.
Earlier: Chrystia Freeland says Canadians were 'so nice' during trade talks
"This is something that, as I've said before and as I related to President Trump, I hope we're able to solve by the time we meet each other in the G20 in Argentina," he said.
The Trudeau government has faced criticism from both Conservatives and New Democrats for moving forward on the USMCA without winning concessions on the levies.
Last month, Mexico's deputy commerce minister made waves by saying his country would not sign the agreement unless the U.S. scraps tariffs on its neighbours. But Freeland told reporters Tuesday she wasn't sure, based on press reports she has read, that represents "the latest Mexican position."
The foreign affairs minister did express some optimism, however, that "common sense" will prevail.
"We now have an agreement in principle with the United States on modernizing NAFTA," she said. "Surely that should create some goodwill and some momentum to remove these tariffs which never ought to have been there in the first place."
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